Getting to the heart of the matter with donors isn’t always easy. Building a long-term donor relationship requires us to get human with folks. Don’t be afraid to let your walls down, get personal and be vulnerable.
After a 28-year career in the financial services industry, I came to my position as Foundation Director for our community owned and governed, 298-bed acute care hospital confident that I had all the tools and skills I needed to be a successful fundraiser. With years of professional sales training and the ability to identify needs, I thought I was ready to tackle the world of non-profit fundraising.
It did not take very long for me to discover I was using the wrong organ in conversations with donors. I was wired to use the logical parts of my brain that had been trained to close a deal. Needless to say, my success was lukewarm at best.
Why was my message falling flat? I benefit from a long history in the business community, I know how to guide decision-making conversations, and as a banker, I had helped hundreds of individual dreams come true.
The answer came over coffee with a well-established major donor, Kris, a woman I had known only a few months since taking the position.
Kris listened to me drone on about the economic impact Enloe Medical Center supported in our northern California region through the jobs we created and the thousands of people we employed. She patiently listened to my spiel about the need to keep our hospital independent to ensure care decisions continued to be made with local governance. After a bit, her eyes started to glaze over.
When I finally stopped talking, she looked at me and asked “Why do you give to the hospital?”
I quickly replied, “Because of all the reasons I just outlined, and because it’s the right thing to do.”
“That’s your head talking,” she said. “I want to know what your heart is telling you.”
This question caught me off my guard. In my entire career, I couldn’t recall being asked what my heart was telling me. As I thought about that conversation later, I began to understand. What she was really asking me was what matters to me. She wanted to know why I care about the hospital, not from a business perspective but from a human perspective. She was asking me about my story.
Your own story can be impactful
My history with our local hospital is long. It began the day I was born there, three-and-a-half years after my future husband had been born there. My sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews also started their own stories at our hospital. One of our children was born there. So, I’ve got some history with the place.